Iraq Country Facts

العراق – Al-Irāq
Capital city Baghdad
Surface 438,317 km²
Population 40,222,000
Road network length 38,400 km
Length of highway network 1,271 km
First highway ?
Motorway name آزادراks
Traffic drives Right
License plate code IRQ

Iraq (Arabic: العراق, Al-Irāq) is a country in the Middle East in Asia. The country is about 11 times the size of the Netherlands and has 40 million inhabitants. The capital is Baghdad.


Iraq is located in the heart of the Middle East, with a short coastline on the Persian Gulf. The country borders Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria clockwise. The country measures 800 by 950 kilometers. Quite large parts of Iraq consists of barely inhabited desert, especially in the west and south of the country. The central part of the country is formed by the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where most major Iraqi cities are located. The border regions with Turkey and Iran are mountainous, here the Zagros Mountains dominate, the 3,611 meter high Cheekha Dar on the border with Iran is the highest point of Iraq.

The valley of the Tigris and Euphrates is cultivated, here irrigated agriculture is possible in the historical region of Mesopotamia. The Tigris and Euphrates also have several reservoirs, as well as in tributaries that flow from the Zagros to the central valley. The coastal region at Faw is only 15 kilometers wide. South of Basrah is a river delta of the Tigris and Euphrates, but the delta is partly in Kuwait.

Iraq has a hot and dry climate with very hot summers. The winters are cool in the north to cold in the mountains, where snow falls regularly. Snow in the lower areas is rarer. The average maximum temperature in Baghdad ranges from 16°C in January to 44°C in summer. In large parts of Iraq, summers have temperatures between 40 and 45°C for months, but temperatures of around 50°C also occur annually. Precipitation is low, from virtually nothing to 120 mm per year in Baghdad. More precipitation falls in the Zagros Mountains, usually 400 to 800 mm.


The population of Iraq grew from about 5 million around 1950 to more than 30 million after 2000 and is now about 37 million. By far the largest city is the capital Baghdad with approximately 9.5 million inhabitants. This is the second largest city in the Arab world (after Cairo) and the second largest in Western Asia (after Tehran). Basra and Mosul both have approximately 2 million inhabitants, in addition Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Hilla also have approximately 1 million inhabitants. The population of Iraq is relatively urbanized.

The population of Iraq consists of about 80% Arabs and 15% Kurds, who mainly live in the northeast. Turkmen form the third group. In Iraq mainly Arabic and Kurdish are spoken. Approximately 65% ​​of the population is Shia and 32% Sunni. In addition, there are small minorities such as Yazidis and Christians.


Iraq’s economy is dominated by the oil industry, which traditionally accounts for 95% of exports. Other economic sectors are underdeveloped, resulting in high unemployment, traditionally around 20-30%. Despite the large oil revenues, the GDP per capita is low at about $4000, because the oil revenues are calculated over a much larger population than, for example, in most Gulf countries. Before 2003, the Iraqi economy was a socialist planned economy within a dictatorship. Most large companies were state-owned, but after the US invasion of 2003, companies are being privatized. However, the ongoing internal conflict is causing a lot of instability and little economic growth. Iraqi Kurdistan is more developed, with a higher standard of living and less instability than elsewhere in Iraq.


The region between the Tigris and Euphrates is known as Mesopotamia and is often considered the cradle of civilization. This region was the first in the world where people started reading, writing, enacting laws and living in cities under government. The area was inhabited by various civilizations from 6000 BC. Over the millennia, the area has been under the rule of many great powers and empires, such as Medes, Greeks, Parthians, Sasanians, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans.

The current country of Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire and consisted of the three provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, the borders were drawn by the French and British, based on the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916. These were straight boundaries through the largely uninhabited desert. The area became a British mandate in 1920, after which a British-backed monarchy under Faisal I was established in 1921. The Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1932. The monarchy was overthrown in a coup in 1958. From 1968, the country was governed by the socialist Ba’ath Party. Saddam Hussein was the president of Iraq from 1979, the country was a dictatorship during this period. A protracted war with Iran was fought between 1980 and 1988, this was the longest conflict of the 20th century but ultimately did not lead to territorial gains or border changes. Iraq then invaded Kuwait in 1990 to annex it as an Iraqi province. This led to the Gulf War of 1990-1991, in which an international coalition led by the Americans liberated Kuwait.

In 2003, an American invasion of Iraq followed to overthrow the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein. The first democratic elections were held in 2005. However, Iraq has been in a permanent state of internal conflict and instability ever since. The Americans left the country in 2011, but the Syrian civil war swept into Iraq with the outbreak of a militant group called Islamic State (IS) that took control of large parts of northwestern Iraq. In 2017, the Islamic State was defeated by the Iraqi army. This included the Battle of Mosul (2016-2017), the largest military operation in Iraq since 2003.

Road Network

Iraq traditionally had one of the better road networks in the Middle East, with several long-haul highways in the desert and the river valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris. About 2,400 kilometers of road have been developed with at least 2×2 lanes and often a highway. Some highways have been expanded with 2×3 lanes. The capital Baghdad is the clear center of the road network, although there is no real ring road. From Baghdad, there are two highways to Basra in the southeast, a highway to Mosul that ends north of Tikrit, and a highway through the desert to the west, which splits into a highway to Syria and a highway to Jordan in western Iraq.. Iraq does not have many border crossings, the main route is the transit route from Jordan to Baghdad, although there are cross-border roads with all other neighboring countries. There are relatively few border crossings with Iran and Turkey due to the mountainous nature of this area. Despite the long border with Saudi Arabia, only one border crossing is important, on the route from Karbala to Ar’ar. This ends in the Nefud Desert in northern Saudi Arabia, a sparsely populated area. There are cross-border highways to Syria, Jordan and Kuwait.

Iraq’s underlying road network is relatively limited, with only a few major routes off the long-haul highways, most notably along the Euphrates River, and in the north of the country around Mosul, Arbil and Kirkuk. The Silk Road runs through Iraq, from Deir Al Zor in Syria via Baghdad to Kermanshah in Iran.

The city of Erbil is special, which has 7 ring roads. The outer two ring roads, the ‘120 meter road’ and the ‘150 meter road’, have been constructed as a motorway.

Highways in Iraq
Freeway 1 • Abu Ghraib Expressway • Dora Expressway • Mohamed Al-Qasim Expressway • Qadisaya Expressway • Western Bypass • 5th Ring Road (Erbil)

Road numbering

The main road network consists of Highways 1 to 12, which run radially from Baghdad. Many routes have double numbering. Other routes are numbered from 13 to 99 without a clear system.


The signage is based on both the German and British system, with blue signs and white letters. The signage is in both Arabic and English. Speed ​​limits are also sometimes indicated on portal signs. The German road number plates are used in Iraq. Signs use both the British transport font and the German DIN1451. Road numbers are indicated without a prefix. Local targets are in white with black lettering.

Various types of signage can be found in Iraq, sometimes in capital script.

Speed ​​limits

In Iraq there are both maximum and minimum speeds, up to 140 km/h maximum on highways. Minimum speeds are usually close to maximum speeds. On multi-lane highways, maximum and minimum speeds may vary from lane to lane, with the highest speeds in the left lanes.


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